The Unlikely Stars Of The Internet

(CBS/iStockphoto)
For those seeking fame, the Internet is the newest pedestal built by the masses, for the masses. No previous experience necessary. It's leveled the playing field and put power in the hands of anyone with access to a computer: soccer moms, armchair pundits, bored students.

You could argue that Andy Warhol's prediction of 15 minutes of fame has gradually morphed into 15 megabytes. Though this achievement can often be fleeting and unaccompanied by accolades or riches, it's a tangible tendency that's made possible by sites like YouTube.com, Revver.com, Metacafe.com, Veoh.com, Blip.tv, Break.com and others. So much so, YouTube organized its first ever YouTube Awards (sorry, the voting closed Friday) with the winners announced Monday. I recently had a chance to hear from three of the nominees.

For example, take the curious case of Matt Harding. When Harding decided to leave Seattle and travel the world he took along an off-the-shelf digital camera that captured video clips along the way. Except he didn't pose like most people – he performed a quirky dance in front of countless world-famous monuments and landscapes.

And "quirky" may be generous.

The dance can best be described as a combination of uber-nerdy and quasi hip hop, though Harding admits he never intended it to come across as professional or to become such a phenomenon. When Harding posted his collection of global two-stepping it quickly garnered the attention of hundreds of thousands of YouTube viewers. Accompanied by his own theme song, there's something strangely innocent and inspiring about his trek.

The Stride gum company funded his second trip around the world, and his latest production has received nearly 6 million views. You can track his upcoming (yes, third) adventure around the world at www.wherethehellismatt.com.

The mysterious tale of "Lonelygirl15" has long since unraveled online, as viewers learned last year that the seemingly solitary teenager known as "Bree" was really actress Jessica Rose. The discovery of a fictional story hasn't quelled interest in the series of low-budget postings, say the "Lonelygirl15" creators Greg Goodfried, Miles Beckett and Mesh Flinders. They feel it's only shifted the focus from curiosity to storytelling.

"Bree" and her friends "Daniel" (played by Yousef Abu-Taleb) and "Jonas" (played by Jackson Davis) have since been involved in a very ABC's "Lost"-like plot that involves cults and kidnapping and road trips. Viewers can "chat" with "Bree" (although it's Goodfried's wife, Amanda, who actually responds), create their own video imaginings in the "Lonelygirl15" world, and contribute to the growing "wiki"-style encyclopedia of trivia. American Idol runner-up and now recording artist Katherine McPhee has appeared in one episode, and the creative team was recently hired by 20th Century Fox to produce a promotional campaign of "Epic Movie" with a send-up of "Lonelygirl15" starring Carmen Electra.

What's "Bree" up to this week? Check out her site on YouTube or at www.lg15.com.

Perhaps the most unlikely of Internet stars is Tom Dickson. As the CEO of Blendtec, Dickson has long been experimenting with how to make the best blenders, both the commercial and home variety. The Orem, UT, firm had virtually no advertising until one of the company's marketing execs decided to film Dickson, in his science teacher-like approach complete with lab coat, as he blended a mix of odd and varied items including (but not limited to) marbles, an iPod, glow sticks, a rake, a McDonald's Value Meal, a tape measure and pickled pigs feet. (No sign of a kitchen sink – yet.)

Dickson's signature question at the start of each roughly one minute clip is "Will it blend?" (So far the answer has been, "yes.")

His folksy charm harkens back to two other boardroom-to-boob tube (or YouTube) CEOs: Dave Thomas of Wendy's restaurants and Orville Redenbacher of popcorn fame. Blendtec runs a Web site called www.willitblend.com where you can visit either the "Don't Try This At Home" or the "Try This At Home" sections, and even buy a "Tom Dickson is my homeboy" t-shirt. By the way, Dickson claims the company is selling many more blenders as a result of the ads, I mean, shows.

Many who achieve the status of online celebrity may not turn fame into fortune just yet. And the attention can be as fleeting as a refreshed Web page. But this trend is on the rise as more people have access to video-capturing technology and more sites offer a cyber screening room, some even providing cash for views. But there's lots of trashy stuff out there, and it can be tough to navigate the noise. Perhaps the underlying thread tying them all together is: Will anybody watch?